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The Count Of Monte Cristo
cast: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, and Dagmara Dominczyk

director: Kevin Reynolds

125 minutes (PG) 2001
Touchstone VHS rental
[released 23 September]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
In a misguided attempt to save the life of their sick captain, young sailor Dantes and his best friend Fernand land on the forbidden island of Elba, home of the imprisoned Napoleon Bonaparte. Dantes naively agrees to carry a 'personal' letter back to France for the former dictator - and before he knows it, he's betrayed, framed, and shipped off to the Chateau D'If, where men who know too much are hidden from the world. Here, he finds a mentor who lets him into a fabulous secret - a secret that enables him to transform himself into the Count of Monte Cristo, and begin a slow and complex scheme to avenge himself on his former friends...
   So far, so good - but unfortunately, the film's tagline, 'Prepare for Adventure', is something of an overstatement. The opening sequences on Elba, and a thrilling confrontation between Dantes and his betrayer, get us off to a fine start. After that, though, swashbuckling takes a back seat to cunning schemes, double crosses, and heated marital arguments. Dantes' scheme for revenge is undoubtedly clever and satisfying, but the change of pace leaves the viewer slightly frustrated. Even the final confrontation, though it offers us some action, is heavy on soap opera style revelations and convenient shifts of allegiance.
   Jim Caviezel is a robust Dantes, handling prison, pirates, and the pretence of nobility with the hopeful determination of an innocent man. You do wonder how anyone stupid enough to carry a secret letter for Napoleon came up with such a complex scheme in the first place, but... Guy Pearce hams it up delightfully as the jealous Fernand, and Dagmara Dominczyk, as the object of their affections, looks attractive and vulnerable in pretty dresses - which is about all the story offers her to do. Strong supporting performances, including James Frain as an amoral magistrate and Luis Guzman as Dantes' sidekick, add depth to the narrative.
   The Count Of Monte Cristo isn't quite the action-fest it claims to be, but it is a lavish, agreeable period confection that, despite the occasional clich´┐Ż or transparent plot twist, maintains your interest to the end. Not exactly Douglas Fairbanks Jr, but you could do worse than spend your next rainy Saturday afternoon with this.